stability of publication media

bob no umbuzeiro bob at UMBUZEIRO.CNIP.ORG.BR
Sat Feb 22 17:40:57 CST 2003

Dear Taxacomm readers

a while ago there was some intense debates on the stability of electronic
media for publication purposes.

I offer this article from the newspaper Le Monde as a balance maybe.

Bob Allkin


Technology offers hope for France's doomed volumes

Pierre Barthelemy

Despite their aura of permanence, books can be fragile objects, especially
if they were printed more than 20 years ago. The problem is the paper. The
rags once used to make it were replaced by wood pulp in the mid-19th
century, resulting in a change in the sizing process that enables paper to
be written or printed on. Without sizing, all you get is blotting paper.In
industrial paper-making, sizing is carried out in a slightly acid medium by
introducing into the wood pulp a rosin soap combined with aluminium
sulphate. Alain Lefebvre, a chemist at the technical centre of the
Bibliotheque Nationale  de France (BNF), explains: "In the presence of
humidity, aluminium sulphate turns into sulphuric acid, which eats into the
paper's cellulose chains. These shrink more and more, weakening the paper,
which no longer has any mechanical resistance and snaps if you fold it once
or twice."

This insidious process can turn a book to dust. As Pierre-Marc de Biasi and
Karine Douplitzky report in their book, La Saga du Papier, tests in 1990
revealed that, of the BNF's 2.6m French books and periodicals published
between 1875 and 1960, 90,000 were irremediably lost, 900,000 in immediate
jeopardy, and 700,000 under threat in the medium term. In all, nearly 65% of
France's written heritage was facing destruction.

Although the process cannot be reversed, it can be halted by a machine at
the BNF's technical centre that deacidifies whole books without it being
necessary to treat them page by page. "The book is immersed in an autoclave
filled with liquid freon, which introduces alkaline magnesium salts that
neutralise existing and future acids," says Lefebvre. It costs about $8 to
deacidify a book. The BNF's machine can treat about 20,000 books a year.

The problem of acid paper will eventually go away anyway: in the 1980s, a
second revolution took place in paper-making - the development of an
acid-free paper in which rosin was replaced by neutral synthetic resins. At
the same time, manufac turers came up with a so-called permanent paper,
which contains an alkaline reserve. It can be recognised by its logo: a
circle containing the mathematical symbol for infinity.

However, paper that survives the passage of time does not totally guarantee
the survival of a text. It is simply the medium on which ink is printed. The
trouble is, as Biasi and Douplitzky point out, that "99% of documents that
are not manufactured by traditional printing works are turned out by
machines that use unstable ink and a printing technique of limited
durability. The ink powder deposited on the paper to form letters and lines
will eventually disappear from the paper without leaving the slightest

"This state of affairs is all the more alarming because laser printing
technology, which is flexible and naturally suited to digitalisation, seems
increasingly attractive to publishers and could rapidly result in the
introduction of industrial printing processes designed to produce books

"In addition to permanent paper, what we now also need is permanent ink
suitable for a printing process that would itself be permanent. Otherwise,
the books of the future, printed on high-quality neutral paper, will
eventually become a succession of blank pages, long-lasting but spotlessly
white, mute and totally bereft of meaning."

Le Monde - translated in
The Guardian Weekly

More information about the Taxacom mailing list